It is a difficult time to be a Liberal Democrat. The third party traditionally favoured by students is now a party of Coalition government. My joining of the Liberal Democrats came after the general election, in which I was proud to have voted for a party aiming, and now implementing policy; to clean up politics and create a fairer and freer society.
While the election result was disappointing for the Liberal Democrats, there was wide spread support among students for our flagship policy – voting and campaigning against any rise in tuition fees. The fact that this was made “solid” with personal pledges gained not only recognition of our commitment to free university education but also votes. The current situation we find ourselves in, with shouts of betrayal and lying to voters, is a “U” turn on this pledge. Much of the protest in London on Wednesday was directed on the Liberal Democrats for the incoming breaking of this pledge.
We have been told repeatedly the economic situation is dire as a result of a large deficit, hence the reasons for the proposed education cuts and an increase in tuition fees. We have been told that the only way of dealing with this is to cut hard and fast to bring the deficit in control within this Parliament. The argument is that we shouldn’t saddle the next generations (ours and the next) with debt. In an election campaign which produced a hung parliament and little information on how parties planned to “fix” the economy, I am finding there is a question which is being endlessly repeated in both my conversations with people and in the public sphere – “did I vote for this?”
On my way to the protest today, I had a postgraduate from our university sit in the spare seat next to me. In what makes the world seem small – she told me that she had actively campaigned for the Liberal Democrats during the general election campaign. One of the things she actively campaigned on was out flagship policy, the scrapping of tuition fees. She was attending the protest today out of disillusionment on how the Liberal Democrats were going against this policy. This is being felt across the party.
It is something Liberal Democrats are actively protesting against. As a committee, the Southampton University Liberal Democrats are campaigning against higher education cuts and the raising of tuition fees, like we did during the general election. Liberal Youth – the student wing of the Liberal Democrats is also campaigning against any rise in tuition fees. Protests and solidarity with students are going on among local councils and campuses up and down the country. There was evidence of this on wednesday – Liberal Democrats against the rise in fees were here protesting with you and for you.
I am proud of policies the Liberal Democrats are implementing while in government, such as £10,000 tax free, a greener economy and £7 billion being set aside for children. I am also proud that first and foremost we are a democratic party – our members decide policy. Free education is something we believe in. It is also the official policy line of the party, which is separate from Coalition policy. We will be discussing with, campaigning and lobbying our leadership to reconsider these proposals in light of what we have seen on Wednesday.
If you want your voice heard on higher education reform, now is the time. SUSU has a link in which you can write a letter or email your MP, or you can send your concerns on where higher education reform may lead to other MPs up and down the country.
There is a Liberal Youth in this country. Be part of it, and make sure you are part of the call for fairness in Higher Education reform.
The author is a committee member of Southampton University Liberal Democrats, a party member in Southampton and an activist.